By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Risking a potentially irreversible rift, the three parties making up President Robert Kocharian’s government and his other major allies have failed to reach agreement on reforming Armenia’s electoral system.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) and its junior coalition partners, the Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir parties, remain divided over how to elect the Armenian parliament -- a key issue that could affect the outcome of future elections.
The latter have been demanding that more parliament seats be contested under the system of proportional representation of political parties at the expense of individual constituencies that each elect one parliamentarian. The Republicans, backed by the People’s Deputy group of non-partisan lawmakers, are opposed to any major change of the existing system that distributes 75 parliament seats on the party list basis and the remaining 56 seats in the single-mandate districts across Armenia.
Details emerged on Tuesday of a meeting of the leaders of the pro-Kocharian parliament majority which was chaired by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian on Monday. Participants said each side stuck to its guns.
“The HHK faction has decided unanimously that the seat proportions that have existed until now must be preserved for the next elections,” a senior Republican deputy, Gagik Melikian told RFE/RL. The move mirrored Markarian’s personal opinion publicly expressed last week.
The Republicans, who have the largest parliament faction, are refusing to give in despite Dashnaktsutyun’s threats to quit the coalition. Dashnaktsutyun leaders warned earlier this month that failure to shore up the proportional representation system would constitute a “blatant violation” of a June 2003 three-party agreement to set up the coalition government.
The majority leaders are expected to meet again next week in another attempt to break the impasse. Their failure to reach common ground could require Kocharian’s intervention in the dispute. Kocharian has not publicly expressed his position on the issue so far.
“I don’t think that the opinion of the president of the republic will differ,” Melikian said. “I think he will defend our opinion. In any case, the opinion of the president is decisive and acceptable for us.”
Armenia’s leading opposition groups also stand for a greater share of party-list seats, saying that the proportional system makes electoral fraud more difficult. Like Dashnaktsutyun, they fare poorly in the single-mandate constituencies where government connections and money play an increasingly large role. However, the opposition minority has avoided any involvement in the election law discussions due to its continuing boycott of parliament sessions.